Topics at the International Meetings (late 1990s)
At their international meetings (usually around New Year’s Eve / New Year’s Day), where all members, as much as possible, take part, extensive theological education also takes place. In order to get a glimpse into the theological interests and the complexity of the topics, a sample of suggested topics for one of these meetings is presented here. From among the many topics, [only] a selection is given, for the sake of clarity.
001 The development of Jewish thought about God. How much the prophets knew. The action of the Holy Spirit in the Old Testament. Evolution of the recognition of the Jews during the history of salvation.
002 The doctrine of the biblical primeval histories (Genesis 1 to 11), their composition. To which extent can they be considered as historical? Can we date them and identify the author?
003 How can we imagine the flood? – When, why, and how did it happen? Was that really God’s activity or was it only interpreted as such? If the flood was God’s action, which goal did He have with it? Why do many pagans recall a similar event?
004 The patriarchs: – their life and their faith in God – cultural and political background – evaluation of theories about their participation in Israel’s history and the actual connections between them – their influence on Israel’s development – literary criticism of the texts which speak about them. When were they written?
005 The historicity of the events surrounding the giving of the law at Mount Sinai (e.g.: the golden calf). Was a revelation really necessary for the Ten Commandments? What is the original version of the Ten Commandments? What happened after the events of the Exodus? — Was Israel loyal to God at the beginning? If so, for how long? (Jeremiah 2:2; Acts 7:37-43) — the first sacrifices (Amos 5:25-27; Jeremiah 7:21-24) — To what extent is the narrative about the golden calf historically reliable? — Aaron sinned repeatedly without being punished (the golden calf, he and Miriam were against Moses in Numbers 12:1-15) — Why couldn’t Moses and Aaron enter the promised land? — The role of Moses and Aaron
006 Did the Jews know the Sabbath before they received the Law or before they moved to the promised land? Exodus 16:21-30. They should have known, when they saw the lack of manna on the seventh day [each week], that the sabbath day was for resting. Did they already recognize through this that they should rest on the seventh day — The origin of the Sabbath: the Adventists say that it was already instituted by God at the beginning of creation. Can we know precisely when it was instituted?
034 Qumran: how, and since when, did this settlement and its progression arise? Was the settlement interrupted? Were its [inhabitants] Essenes? The thought and practice of the Qumran community! Did they expect two messiahs? The contents of the unearthed writings at Q[umran]. What does the gate of the Essenes mean for Flavius Josephus? Was there also a larger community of Essenes in Jerusalem? Why don’t we find any trace of them in the New Testament? — And how do NT writings come later than [the] Q[umran community]?
035 Dating the gospels, especially Matthew and John — concerning Matthew: how many authors worked at which times on it, and is the source Q the “original Matthew”? — Which of the gospels assumes which others, and what if one of them assumes no others — how can we consider that / why not? The dating of the gospels: similarities and contradictions. Which is more reliable? The dating of the gospels. Which is the correct sequence and composition? (Mutual influence of the synoptic gospels, [their] connection to John, etc.)
036 Why did the evangelists [authors of the four gospels] not correct each other? Why did John not write about important events (e.g., transfiguration, conversion of the thief on the cross)? Why did the evangelists narrate the events at the Cross so differently (last words of Jesus, conversion of the thief)? — Only John was at the Cross. Did he not tell the others what he’d heard and seen? Differences between the gospels. What the evangelists did not discuss with each other.
052 How did the evangelists, the apostles, or Jesus Himself use Old Testament passages in order to explain His death? Why, or in which way, did they use them? Can we use these passages against the false understanding of the death of Jesus? (Mark 12:10; John 19:36-37; John 19:28; etc.)
053 Irony in the writings of the NT — How are John 11:2; I Corinthians 11:34; Acts 23:5 to be properly understood? Finding other passages which are to be understood ironically. Irony as a means of expression — or which purpose did the authors pursue with it? Didn’t it present the danger of misunderstanding these verses?
054 Meaning and use of the words “many, all, every” especially in the NT. In connection with this, discuss these and similar passages: Matthew 20:16 (many are called); Matthew 20:28 (ransom for many); Matthew 26:28 (blood shed for many); Romans 5:15; 18:19 (many died by the one transgression, God’s grace became overflowing for many); Roman 14:11 (every knee shall bow); Philippians 2:10-11 (every knee shall bow)
055 Problematic verses about redemption. How can we properly understand these verses: Hebrew 2:9-10; Romans 5:10. Was the death of Jesus necessary in order to initiate a new covenant? Verses which show that we are saved by the life of Jesus (less wellknown passages)? How can we explain the verses in which the death of Jesus is predicted? Why is the death of Jesus emphasized in the letter to the Hebrews? How can we explain that?
056 A more exact discussion of Romans 14 – was it impossible for the Jewish Christians in Rome to obtain meat which complied with the dietary and purity commands of the law? - Which practical consequences arose, when a Jewish Christian considered a day (i.e., the Sabbath) to be more important [than other days]? – Why did Paul, in verse 21, expand the previous limits on drinking wine, and more generally? Does this principle, of regarding the conscience of one’s neighbor, not lead to problems with one’s own conscience?
057 The community in Corinth. Its origin, its relationship to Paul, and the problems [there] (concrete sins, lack of discipline, idols, etc.). What was the problem between Paul and the Corinthians? At which points did it manifest itself? Who were the false apostles in II Corinthians 11:13? – Did they influence the Corinthians against Paul? What was their teaching?
060 Colossians 2:8-23 – Who are the corrupting [influences], who [are] those corrupted (gentile Christians and/or Jewish Christians)? – What does Paul mean by “philosophy and vain deceit” (verse 8) and by “elements of the world” and by “rulers and authorities”? – Does verse 20 speak of the influence of nonconforming Judaism or of gentile Christians who wrongly want to retain the Jewish law?
064 John’s Letters: – To whom were they written? What was the spiritual condition of the community, if so much about false teachers is written there? – What was the judgment and criterion for false teachers and corrupting [influences]? – I John 2:19; II John 4; III John 9-10 (cf. II Timothy 2:20-21). How are the arguments against gnosticism presented in John’s letters? How should we understand these expressions?
BIBLE (OT + NT)
073 Concerning the concept of God in the OT and NT. How can we prove that they speak of the same God? (Comparing differences)
074 Salvation History: – How did God lead the Jews? (Step by step: an eye for an eye, criterion for idol worship, wars?) – How did God prepare the gentiles for the arrival of the Messiah? – Why did Jesus arrive precisely at that time? – What does it mean that the Jews of the OT are saved by Jesus? – Romans 11
089 God’s Characteristics: His omnipresence (correct and incorrect understanding: pantheism), His omnipotence, His omniscience, His perfection, His freedom (He cannot choose evil – is He limited?). He is Love. He is goodness itself.
090 God’s Majesty (Glory) and Holiness. Explanation of the concept of the fear of God. What do fascinosum and tremendum mean [Latin for ‘frightening’ and ‘alluring’]? What is the difference between instinctive and conscious fear of God. Can instinctive fear of God be a line of reasoning in support of the existence of God? Fear of God and theophany. Examples in the OT and NT. Exodus 3; Exodus 19:16- 29; Exodus 24:9-18; Isaiah 6:1-4; Ezekiel 1; NT: Luke 9:28-37; Acts 7:55; Luke 5:1-11, etc. How do these strengthen our faith? The role of the fear of God in our life. What is the reason (the cause) and the consequence of a lack of, and the degeneration of, the fear of God?
091 Trinity: The procession of the persons in the Trinity. The eternal procession of the Son from the Father — indirect and direct allusions in the NT to the differences in the Trinity. How were they used in disputes about the Trinity in the first centuries? How can we formulate the differences among the three persons [of the Trinity]? Is there any difference in the[ir] tasks? What is the role of these [three persons]? The nature of God. The correct understanding of the Trinity. There is no hierarchy (Biblical arguments against Jehovah’s Witnesses, according to whom the Father is greater than the Son) – The differences between the Trinity and other “trinitarian” modes of thought about the deity (e.g.: Vishnu, Shiva, and Brahman) – God is a person (He has understanding, free will, and the ability to love) and a force.
113 Overview of the Herodian family – How did they descend from the Hasmoneans? (Jerusalem Bible, pg. 1829) — 1st generation: Herod the Great Matthew 2:1/19, Luke 1:5 — 2nd generation: Herod Antipas Luke 1:3, Mark 6:17 — Archelaus Matthew 2:22 — Philippus — 3rd generation Herod Agrippa Acts 12:1-24 — 4th generation Herod Agrippa II Acts 25:13-32
114 The collaboration of the congregations in the first century, their mutual influence: — the importance of the community at Jerusalem. How did its influence develop, what was positive, what was negative? James, the brother of the Lord: what can we know about him, about his life, his conversion, his way of thinking in his life as a Christian … ? What does it mean, that he was a pillar of the Christian congregation? On which points did he influence the development of Christians positively, and what are problematic points? How could he work together with the other apostles? — Other congregations which had great influence on the development of Christianity
117 The falling away of the first Christians. What determined this falling away? What was the point from which there was no way back? What can we learn in the community from this bad example? The development of the old churches, the reasons for their falling away
118 Christianity outside of the Bible: — an examination of the extra-biblical Christian texts (Didache, the Letter of Clement, the writings of Athenagoras): Dating, evaluation of their problematic aspects. Are there still other persons or movements that we can assume were Christians? Extra-biblical texts and documents about Jesus and the Christians in the first centuries. Their content and value. Were there other acknowledged documents which are not in the Canon of the NT now? Does that have any value for evangelization? Extra-biblical witnesses about the life of Christians. How did they conduct the Lord’s Supper, where did they gather, and what did they do when they gathered, etc.?
119 The most important early church fathers (apostolic fathers? what’s the difference?) What is still valid, and what is wrong in their thinking? Can we detect the incorrect development from their writings? A comprehensive overview of the church fathers. Their major works, their evaluations, etc. Church fathers and their most important teachings (Augustine, Origen, Ignatius, Polycarp, Justin, Irenaeus … ) What was heresy? The path to the schism. Contradictions between the church fathers and the current Catholic teaching.
120 Important steps in the “church” history from the death of the apostles to Constantine. The so-called old Christian literature which contains something in reference to this era.
121 ORIGEN: — Who was Origen? — What did he teach? — What do we know about him? — To which extent did he influence his era and theology? — Why could he exert such a great influence with his teaching? — Who was dependent upon him? — When was he condemned, and which of his teachings [were condemned]?
122 AUGUSTINE: — Who was Augustine? — Which teachings did he have in regard to: 1. Grace and works 2. Salvation 3. Predestination (foreordination) 4. Against the Donatists 5. Concept of the church 6. Baptism (children) 7. Sin 8. Manichean influence on his thought about the physical nature — Because he is often used as an authority for Catholics, Protestants, and Calvinists, we should also consider his development in thought and in his doctrine. — How did his opponents, e.g., Julian of Eclanum, reason? Why could Augustine assert himself?
123 What are the most important turning points on the path to the “church schism” of 1054? When and on which points did the churches of the west and east begin to distance themselves from each other? Of what did the specifically Roman spirit and specifically Greek spirit consist? Which people played an especially important role?
124 Development of the Catholic teaching, its source and original structures. Hierarchy, Mary, Purgatory, Ecumenism. When did which heresies of the Catholics arise? Causes and background: e.g.: priesthood, papacy, religious buildings, about Mary, baptism, sacraments, etc. How did the Eucharist develop into the current form of the Catholic liturgy?
125 The religious, political, and social background of the Reformation. Its essential foundations (persons or groups). What was good, valuable and what was bad? Which important groups (trends) came from the criticized religion.
126 Teaching of Calvin and Zwingli. Which doctrinal differences are there between Calvin, Zwingli, and Luther? Which organizations build on the teachings of Calvin and Zwingli today, and what differences are there between them? What influence do and did these false teachings have in history, e.g., Apartheid in South Africa?
127 The Anabaptists / Re-Baptizers of the 16th and 17th centuries. — How did they arise, where were they active? — Famous persons (e.g., Balthasar Hubmeier) — What did they teach and practice / the communal ownership of property, the structure and submission to the community, Christology. Not to talk too much about infant baptism — The difference between their teaching and the teaching of Luther, of Zwingli, and of Calvin — False teachings inside the Anabaptist movement. — What did Luther, Zwingli, or Calvin think about them? — Evaluation: Was this movement originally a Christian movement — Protestant groups which claim to be their descendants (Baptists and … ) — How these groups differ from the Anabaptists.
128 How much do we know about Christians over the course of centuries. Or to which degree were the church fathers, as known to us, close to / far from / Christianity
129 The responsibility of every Christian for the community: — Why did the second generation of Christians so quickly abandon the truth? The role of the elders and the responsibility of the younger siblings for the church. Which influence did passivity and reluctance to bear responsibility have on the development of the church? Our responsibility for each other and for outsiders. Can we in certain situations say that someone’s [spiritual] life depends upon a few Christians or upon the community? — “… I will hold you responsible for his death.” (Ezekiel 3:18) — “I am not responsible for the death of any person …” (Acts 20:26) — “Whoever brings a sinner back from the error of his ways will save him from death …” (James 5:20). Which responsibility do we have regarding the salvation of others, e.g., if we are not wise or obedient, to which extent can that affect the salvation of another? Can the effect even be that someone would decide against God?
130 Better to endure damage yourself than to repay evil with evil. How should a person explain this New Testament teaching? Where should we set a limit to this behavior, and where not? Should Christians and nonbelievers be treated differently in regard to this question? The influence of this teaching on the way we understand Christian relationship, I Corinthians 6:6-8; Romans 12:17-21; Philippians 2:4; I Corinthians 10:24,33; Luke 12:13-15; Matthew 5:4f, 10-12, 38-42; I Corinthians 13:4-7, etc.
131 Congregational discipline — Biblical examples, evaluating the practice of the early Christian era (The Shepherd of Hermas, texts of the church fathers, … ) — What we can learn from this.
132 How does God protect? — e.g.: Paul and Peter could probably have accomplished even more, if God had been able to prevent them (could warn them) from being killed, as is assumed, in the persecutions of Nero. Or was their death an important witness for the Christians enduring persecution? — To which extent does God want to always protect Christians, would He always warn [them] about natural catastrophes, traffic accidents, … ?
141 Arguments for the existence of God
142 Fundamentalism: — What lies behind it? Why do people cling to it so? — Examples of the major heresies which are supported by fundamentalism. Why does God appear in the OT to be a God of revenge?
143 Predestination — According to this theory, what is the criterion for the people’s election? — Which texts do the supporters [of this view] use as argumentation? (Romans 9) How can we argue against it?
144 Humanism. What do people mean by this word? Is Humanism a threat to Christianity? Is Humanism an opposite [view] to loving one’s neighbor? Is there [such a thing as] Christian humanism?
145 ZOROASTRIANISM / MAZDAISM its development. Comparison with the OT
146 [Is] the Pentecostal movement [similar] to spiritism? The rise of the charismatic movement? Spiritual training by means of suggestion? Healing as a means of conversion? Baptism of the Holy Spirit as a goal and a law? The laying on of hands? Prophecy, … personal revelations and signs — who is annointed? — Demons in Christians — Ecstasy and speaking in tongues — wealth. The best ways to expose and argue
147 Rudolf Steiner: Philosophy and pedagogical concepts
148 Lines of reasoning in conversation with Buddhists and Hindus
149 The most important [facts] about Islam
150 What can people of various religions, various eras, and various cultures recognize about God, and what have they already recognized [about God] from art, literature, science, etc. (Can we know that?)
151 Creationism and Evolution. a) can we literally accept what is written about the creation? b) can science explain the creation of the world and of humans?
152 The Evaluation of “Natural Healing” (transfer of energy). Help for people who are under its effects, e.g, who are healed [by it]
153 How are the Marian miracles to be explained: satanic, through psychic or parapsychic power, or by the deception of the Catholics? — Can the devil, in principle, create new tissue? — Is the hypothesis of counterfeit [healing] tenable in the face of international investigations, a physician’s office in Lourdes, exact documentation with findings, and longitudinal examinations years later? — Is there a difference between the miraculous healing of serious illnesses like cancer attributed to the Marian cult and other spontaneous healings?